Naming his son QB coach a risk-free move for Kirk Ferentz -- which is Iowa's issue
When you give a coach what amounts to a lifetime contract, the first thing removed is accountability. That coach has no obligation to answer to any living person.
When accountability is removed, mistakes happen. Indeed, they are inevitable when you never hear “no” as an answer.
And when mistakes happen within the Iowa football program, they invariably involve Brian Ferentz.
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So it’s pretty easy to see why Hawkeye fans are less than enthused by Ferentz recently having “quarterbacks coach” added to the offensive coordinator responsibilities he already wasn’t very good at.
But if you think it’s bad now, dear Hawkeye fan, brace yourself. This move is another step toward a potentially dismal long-term vision for Iowa football.
Brian Ferentz: Son of a coach
There is one thing that even critics must concede about Brian Ferentz: the lad comes from a fine gene pool. His father, Kirk, has created a level of sustained success that very few coaches would be able to replicate. Especially at a school like Iowa, which doesn’t have an abundance of native-born Division I talent.
And Kirk might be an even better dad than he is a coach. His family loyalty is clearly second-to-none. But it may also blind him to things most of us would categorize as obvious.
Brian Ferentz impresses more in the Xs and Ys (that would be chromosomes) than the Xs and Os (that would be play-calling).
Outside of a blip in a COVID-shortened 2020, Iowa’s offense has been underwhelming since Brian was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2017. And that blip — ranking 2nd in the Big Ten in scoring while only ranking 8th in Yards Per Play — seems a byproduct of capitalizing on short fields provided by special teams and defense.
- 2021: 10th/99th
- 2020: 2nd/40th
- 2019: 9th/87th
- 2018: 4th/44th
- 2017: 5th/66th
(Yards Per Attempt)
- 2021: 10th/114th
- 2020: 10th/98th
- 2019: 8th/76th
- 2018: 7th/79th
- 2017: 5th/79th
(Yards Per Carry)
- 2021: 11th/108th
- 2020: 5th/47th
- 2019: 9th/90th
- 2018: 11th/94th
- 2017: 11th/104th
(Yards Per Play)
- 2021: 11th/120th
- 2020: 8th/86th
- 2019: 8th/86th
- 2018: 11th/91st
- 2017: 10th/108th
From those modest beginnings — a pass offense that has never ranked better than 76th nationally in yards per attempt under Brian’s tutelage — Iowa fans are being asked to expect an upgrade at quarterback.
You can pardon their skepticism. Especially when you look at the housekeeping being done around the rest of the B1G West neighborhood.
West rivals addressing erratic QB play
There is no polite way of describing quarterback play in the Big Ten West last season. It was abysmal.
Illinois — Illinois! — had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in the division with 13 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions. The Illini were also 14th in yards per game and 12th in passer rating, so that paints just how grim the picture was across the board.
Most B1G West coaches realized this and did something to address it.
Scott Frost, his feet firmly to the fire, hired Pitt offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple for the same role at Nebraska. Whipple helped Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett become a Heisman finalist in 2021.
At Wisconsin, Paul Chryst realized he was biting off more than he could chew as head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The Badgers hired Bobby Engram, the former Penn State star receiver with an NFL pedigree, as their new offensive coordinator.
Following a dreadful season from quarterback Tanner Morgan, Minnesota’s PJ Fleck turned to the coach who once had Morgan looking like a prospect. After 2 years away, Kirk Ciarrocca is back as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. There is hope Morgan can regain his former form in his final season.
Even Illinois made a change after Bret Bielema’s first year, hiring offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Barry Lunney Jr. away from a successful UTSA program. Bielema knows Illinois needs to make progress passing the ball.
Each of these programs hired a coach with a proven track record of working with quarterbacks.
Kirk Ferentz’s answer to this escalation is promoting his son who has never coached the position before.
The lone justification seems to be that it makes more sense for the younger Ferentz to be coaching quarterbacks and coordinating the offense rather than coaching tight ends and coordinating the offense, which was the case before.
That much is true. But the Hawkeyes still seem intent on showing up to the Big Ten version of the OK Corral armed with squirt guns.
A succession plan taking shape?
Kirk’s short-term trust in his son probably tells us something about his long-term vision for the Hawkeyes.
Kirk doesn’t literally have a lifetime contract at Iowa, though it effectively serves as such. He’ll be in Iowa City through the 2029 season, at which point he’ll be 74 years old. Ferentz has the leverage on AD Gary Barta, and not the other way around.
And to be clear, Ferentz has earned that longevity. Iowa hasn’t had a losing season since 2012. Ohio State and Wisconsin are the only Big Ten programs to maintain a superior level of consistency in the 2-plus decades he has been in charge.
For Iowa to be more reliable year-in and year-out than Michigan or Penn State is remarkable work.
Kirk Ferentz is a coaching legend.
The trouble with legends, no matter where they’re located, is it becomes impossible to tell them what to do. And it certainly looks like Kirk Ferentz would like to position the furniture in such a way that Iowa’s head coach in 2030 is named Brian Ferentz.
This is not a unique phenomenon within the Hayden Fry coaching tree.
Bill Snyder — who himself was Iowa’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach from 1979-88 — had a Ferentz-like tenure at Kansas State. And he was openly desirous that his son Sean be named his replacement.
Perhaps wisely, K-State did not go that route, instead snagging North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman. And Sean Snyder was a heck of a lot more accomplished as a special teams coordinator — always among the nation’s best — than Brian Ferentz has demonstrated as an OC.
We are still 8 years from even reaching that bridge. And that raises an uncomfortable notion for Iowa fans.
Are we about to embark on 8 more seasons of middling (or worse) Brian Ferentz offenses because no one can prevent it?